GAR — Mayor Jerome A. Prince wanted to hear from his people. And he did Thursday night.
Questions and concerns at the community forum at City Hall ranged from new city vehicles to community cleanups and from handicap accessibility to redeveloped school buildings.
After Prince canceled earlier forums because of the pandemic, the mayor decided to resume the meetings so he could “hear their concerns one-on-one.”
Calling the forums “opportunities to learn,” Prince noted, “We’re here to listen as well as share.”
Similar meetings are scheduled for Oct. 12, 21, and 28 at locations to be determined.
Prince opened the meeting with an update of his “All in Gary” cleanup and rejuvenation campaign. Citing progress over the last nine months, the mayor added, “This is something that has to be an ongoing effort.”
That effort, Prince said, includes cleaning up city properties to lead by example.
Rachelle Ceaser, the city’s director of general services, outlined the four pillars of All in Gary: clean the city, stop the dumping, change the mindset, and create a cycle of continual improvement.
Ceaser cited several community cleanup days, with community groups, including Lighthouse Academy, getting involved.
“We all have to be in this together,” Ceaser said, adding that the city will cooperate with groups of 10 or more working on cleanup projects around the city.
Besides cleaning, Prince said, the mayor wants a safe city.
“We need to change the image of our city, the ‘brand’ of it,” Prince said.
Prince's specific goals
Gary’s image as a steel industry city still persists, said. Prince, who has two goals for the city.
One goal is Gary as a destination city. Aiding that effort, Prince said, is the lakefront, a new casino, and the Jackson Five.
The second goal is Gary as a technology hub. Prince wants to work with Indiana University Northwest officials on creating more opportunities for technology locally.
Regarding safety, Fire Chief Sean O’Donnell reported his department responded to 20,000 calls last year, including 6,000 fire-related calls.
So far this year, O’Donnell continued, Gary has hired 23 firefighters and next year he hopes to hire 25 more.
The Gary Fire Department has new equipment and vehicles this year, including equipment for handling hazardous materials, the chief reported.
Police Chief Brian Evans reported the city has 10 new officers this year, with another 10 to be hired next year. Police are also receiving 35 new vehicles, in addition to new technology.
Deputy Police Chief Michael Jackson said new technology aided that day in the arrest of two suspects. Jackson also reported that at this time last year, Gary has had 141 shootings and 37 homicides this year, compared to 125 shootings and 44 homicides at this time last year.
Jackson added police have identified 24 gangs, or groups, that associate with Gary. Many of those groups, the deputy chief said, are Illinois-based.
Regarding the latest census, which showed Gary with a population decline from 80,000 in 2010 to 69,000 in 2020, Prince said one effect might be funding at the state and federal levels. The mayor added those numbers may have been “undercounted” due to COVID. 19. Prince also said those numbers may be growing due to recent interest in the city.
Renae Jackson, an advocate for the handicapped who has spent the last 32 years in a wheelchair, continues to push for handicap accessibility. She challenged Prince, “I’m tired of broken promises. I want you to be the mayor to get this done.”
In other news, Prince reported:
• The findings of the Police Reform Commission will soon be made public.
• The city has bought six closed school buildings and is pursuing redevelopment of those structures.
• Among the businesses interested in hiring Gary people is American Kitchen Delights, which will hold a local job fair Oct. 20.
• Removal of blighted buildings is ongoing, with “significant” demolitions done along sections of Broadway.
Prince questioned charges that only the Miller area is being restored, adding, “We’re doing everything we can to make all of Gary look like Miller, or better.”
The mayor encouraged residents to “get engaged.” As he said, “We have a lot of work to do.”